Thursday, June 14, 2007

Executive Council declines to participate in Primates' 'pastoral scheme,' says only Convention makes policy

[Episcopal News Service] The Episcopal Church's Executive Council told the Anglican Communion June 14 that no governing body other than General Convention can interpret Convention resolutions or agree to deny "future decisions by dioceses or General Convention."

The Council declined to participate in a plan put forward by the Primates of the Anglican Communion in February for dealing with some disaffected Episcopal Church dioceses.

The statement, titled "The Episcopal Church's Commitment to Common Life in Anglican Communion," "strongly affirm[ed] this Church's desire to be in the fullest possible relationship with our Anglican sisters and brothers."

The text of the statement and its accompanying resolutions passed with limited debate.

The statement agreed with the House of Bishops, which said in March that the so-called Pastoral Scheme "would be injurious to The Episcopal Church." An accompanying resolution (EC012) also "respectfully requests the Presiding Bishop to decline as well." The statement itself "respectfully ask[s] our Presiding Bishop not to take any of the actions asked of her by this scheme."

The action came June 14 on the last day of a four-day meeting at the Sheraton hotel in Parsippany, New Jersey.

The statement, and three resolutions, form a response to portions of the communiqué issued by the Anglican Primates at the end of their February meeting in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. The communiqué contained the Pastoral Scheme and called for the Episcopal Church "to effect a moratorium on the election and consent to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate who is living in a same gender union until some new consensus in the Anglican Communion emerges."

At the 75th General Convention in June 2006, in Columbus, Ohio, bishops and deputies agreed in Resolution B033 on the last day to "call upon Standing Committees and bishops with jurisdiction to exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion."

The communiqué also called for an end to "public rites" for blessing of same-gender relationships.

The General Convention has never authorized a liturgy for blessing same-gender relationships. In 2003, the Convention recognized, in Resolution C051, that "local faith communities are operating within the bounds of our common life as they explore and experience liturgies celebrating and blessing same-sex unions." This has meant that some diocesan bishops have allowed priests to bless such unions as a pastoral response to members of their congregations.

The Council acknowledged the communiqué as "a good-faith contribution" to the on-going discussion about Anglican identity and authority, but said that the "requests of the Primates are of a nature that can only be responded to by our General Convention." The Convention next meets in the summer of 2009.

The Council's statement "question[ed] the authority of the Primates to impose deadlines and demands upon any of the churches of the Anglican Communion."

"Assertions of authority met by counter-assertions of polity are not likely to lead to the reconciliation we seek," the statement said. "Our salvation is not in the law but in the grace of God in Jesus Christ our Savior; so too with our relationships as Anglicans."

The Council said that "the only thing we really have to offer in that relationship is who we are -- a community of committed Christians seeking God's will for our common life."

The statement claimed unity through baptism, said that "we are, whether we wish it or not, God's gift to each other" and acknowledged that the church has historically struggled to embrace people who have been marginalized -- a struggle that includes the current debate over the place and vocation of gay and lesbian people in the life of the church.

Connected to the statement, Council passed Resolution EC010 to receive and adopt the statement the group has drafted.

The second resolution (EC011), titled "Commending the report of the Communion Sub-Group," refers to the report of an Anglican Communion group which generally gave the Episcopal Church positive marks for its response to various requests to explain its decisions regarding same-gender blessings, the episcopal ordination of an openly gay and partnered priests, and its desire to remain a part of the Anglican Communion. The resolution encourages the House of Bishops to consider the report as it prepares to meet in September.

The third resolution (EC012), "Executive Council's response to the House of Bishops' Mind of the House Resolution on the Proposed Pastoral Scheme," refers to the House of Bishops' declaration in March that a plan the Primates put forward for dealing with some disaffected Episcopal Church dioceses "would be injurious to The Episcopal Church." The bishops' resolution urged that the Executive Council decline to participate in it and the proposed statement would in fact have Council decline and "respectfully ask our Presiding Bishop not to take any of the actions asked of her by this scheme." EC011 concurs with the bishops' statement.

The Council rejected an attempt by member Belton Zeigler of South Carolina to substitute a resolution asking the House of Bishops to reconsider its refusal to participate in the pastoral scheme. Zeigler's substitute resolution would have asked Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori to convene a pastoral council to determine which parts of the Primates' scheme the Episcopal Church could participate in without violating its Constitutions and Canons.

Jefferts Schori and House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson appointed the EC008 Task Group. Resolution EC008 named Anderson, who is vice president of Council, to chair the work group. (Jefferts Schori is president of the Council.)

The members of the task group, in addition to Anderson, are Puerto Rico Bishop David Alvarez; Los Angeles Bishop Jon Bruno; Sharon Denton of the Diocese of Western Kansas; the Rev. Dr. Ian Douglas of Massachusetts; Delbert Glover of Western Massachusetts; the Rev. Canon Mark Harris of Delaware; the Rev. Timothy Kimbrough of North Carolina; the Rev. Gay Jennings of Ohio; and Lexington Bishop Stacy Sauls. Anderson's chancellor, Sally Johnson, was a consultant to the task group. Council members Kim Byham (Diocese of Newark), Bruce Garner (Diocese of Atlanta), Dottie Fuller (Diocese of El Camino Real), Dennis Stark (Diocese of Rhode Island) and the Rev. Winnie Varghese (Diocese of New York) also met with the group.

Douglas, who is also a consulting theologian to the House of Bishops' Theology Committee, acted as a liaison between the two groups as the theology committee worked on a study document meant to help bishops in gathering comments in their dioceses prior to the bishops' mid-September meeting in New Orleans where they will formulate a further response to the communiqué.

The Executive Council meeting continued on June 14 and ENS will report on the rest of the day's action in a story later today.

-- The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is national correspondent for the Episcopal News Service.

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